Matrix Management / Virtual Teams

How does a micromanager deal with something they don’t understand?

Fred Goodwin, 2009
Fred Goodwin, 2009

Kevan Hall urges thinking carefully before regulation to prevent the problems of the past, created in part by micromanagement, inadvertently leads to more of the same.

Nobody ever sits down and plans their development or career goals saying “You know I would really like to become a micromanager”.

Often the seeds of micromanagement come from the best intentions. Early in our career we are good at problem-solving. We are hard-working and keen to help. We get promoted for displaying these behaviours and move onto more sophisticated problems. If we are really good at it we become managers.

Then when our people bring us problems, our first instinct is to solve it for them, it seems so helpful and it’s so easy for us – but pretty soon we have trained our people not to solve problems for themselves and to bring everything to us.

From time to time we read about the latest hero CEO in the press. They only sleep a few hours per night. They have a forensic understanding of the numbers of the business and a high level of control on operations. The press love them, but they are usually a disaster for the people who work for them and their organizations.

There are some great examples in recent books about the financial crisis.

One example in particular was about Fred Goodwin, who was famous for micromanaging his organization. But what happened when he came across issues that even he couldn’t understand, such as complex derivatives and some of the operations of its investment bank? Apparently he chose to ignore this area as it didn’t conform to his normal method of operation.

This is one of the key disadvantages of micromanagement in a large complex organization. If you attempt to micromanage everything, you create a huge amount of overhead in review and monitoring and also disempower the people closer to the action from taking timely decisions. It may also not be realistic or desirable for very senior leaders to have that level of detail in a large complex global organization.

The ‘game’ becomes getting the agreement of the micromanager, rather than doing the right thing quickly.

I fear that current attempts to regulate the financial services industry will simply make this worse, with odorous governance procedures that prevent people from making decisions and create a generation of micromanagers terrified that they have missed anything.

It’s a really difficult balance to achieve in any business, and relies more on the values and behaviours of people locally than it does on the governance structures globally. I am sure, however, that micromanagement behaviours will not get us where we want to be, and the challenge for managers in increasingly regulated organizations in particular is to carve out areas of empowerment, autonomy and trust, even though the general swing of their organizations is towards higher levels of control..

Contact Global Integration for more information on leadership and management programmes that help  complex organizations become better, more productive places to work through engaging training and consultancy.


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